R. V. Cassill, full name Ronald Verlin Cassill, (May 17, 1919 – March 25, 2002) was a prolific writer, reviewer, editor, painter, and lithographer. He is most notable for his novels and short stories, through which he won several awards and grants.
Life and work
Early years and military service
Cassill was born on May 17, 1919 in Cedar Falls, Iowa to Howard Cassill, a school superintendent, and Mary Glosser, a teacher; he had two brothers, Donald Cassill and H. Carroll Cassill, and a sister, LaJean. After graduating from Blakesburg High School, he earned a B.A. in art at The University of Iowa in 1939, where he was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. From 1942 to 1946, Cassill served the United States Army in the Medical Administration Core as a first lieutenant, stationed in the South Pacific.
Studies, early writings, and art work
Cassill's wartime experiences culminated in his short story “The Conditions of Justice,” published in 1947, and won him his first Atlantic Monthly.
For less than a year after having returned from the war, Cassill studied art at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1946, where his artistic skills flourished. He mounted exhibits in Chicago in 1946 and 1948.
After studying in Chicago, he returned to the University of Iowa, earning his M.A. in 1947. In 1949 he briefly served as an instructor at the University's Writer's Workshop before attending the Sorbonne in 1952 for a year as a Fulbright Fellow, studying comparative literature. Cassill worked as an editor for the Western Review of Iowa City from 1951 to 1952, Collier's Encyclopedia from 1953 to 1954, and Dude and Gent in 1958.
Cassill wrote about 15 “paperback originals” in the 1950s and early 1960s. Assessing these early writings, The New York Times' remarked that “Cassill shows that he can combine paperback storytelling at its strongest with subtle literary quality.”
Cassill took a lecturing position at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1955; in 1957 he taught in New York, where he became a lecturer at both Columbia University and the New School for Social Research. Between the shift of moving from the west coast to the east coast, Cassill fell in love and married Karilyn Kay Adams on November 23, 1956. Together they had three children, Orin, Jesse, and Erica Cassill. Cassill returned to the University of Iowa in the same capacity in 1960 where he would teach for a few years at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Among some of the students who took classes with Cassill at the Iowa Writer's Workshop during this time, and would later go on to achieve some measure of acclaim, included Clark Blaise, Raymond Carver, and Joy Williams.
His next position was as writer-in-residence at Purdue University from 1965 to 1966. Soon after beginning teaching at Brown University, Cassill founded the Associated Writing Programs (now known as the Association of Writers & Writing Programs) in 1967. Cassill was appointed Associate Professor at Brown University in 1966 and then to Professor of English in 1972 where he remained until his retired from teaching as Professor emeritus in 1983. In addition to his teaching, Cassill served as U.S. Information Service lecturer in Europe from 1975 to 1976. During this time, he mounted another art exhibit in 1970. After retiring from Brown University, Cassill became the editor of The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, retaining this position for nearly a quarter century, until his death.
Cassill died in the Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, Rhode Island, March 2002. At the time of his death, he was survived by his wife, two sons (Orin E., of New York City, and Jesse B., of San Diego), and a daughter, Erica Cassill Wood of Saline, Michigan; a brother, H. Carroll, of Cleveland, Ohio; a sister, LaJean Holstein of Ellsworth, Maine; and seven grandchildren.
In 1995 the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded Cassill the Academy Award for Literature. Cassill received the Atlantic Monthly's “Firsts” prize for a short story in 1947. He won the O. Henry short-story award for “The Prize” in 1956. He was given a Rockefeller grant in 1954 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1968.
Literary work and legacy
Cassill's prolific career writing and publishing, along with a wide array of interests beyond fiction, make it difficult to summarize the thematic nature and concerns of his work. His stories and novels concern bucolic life in the midwest, the life of the artist or academic, and at times extend into autobiography. A preoccupation with the fates of couples, in alienation and union, is exhibited in much of his fiction, as is the warring of emotional and rational impulses in individuals and pairs. A strong visual identification is intrinsic in his prose, likely due to his training as a visual artist. His most famous novels were probaby Doctor Cobb's Game and Clem Anderson, but both the sheer breadth of his writing, and his pervasive influence as a writing teacher, have secured Cassill's legacy in modern fiction.
Cassill's papers are archived at the Mugar Memorial Library at Boston University.